Baron Vaughn is a stand-up comedian and actor whom I’ve described on this site before as “a quintuple threat” because of his multitude of capabilities onstage and onscreen.
Vaughn appeared on the big screen in Black Dynamite and Cloverfield, on the small screen in USA’s Fairly Legal, and now in the new Netflix original series, Grace and Frankie [launching May 8], playing the adopted son of Lily Tomlin’s and Sam Waterston’s characters. Did he get the part because of any so-called “ethnic casting craze” sweeping through Hollywood’s TV studios?
But Vaughn acknowledged that times have changed from even a few years ago, when he mostly auditioned for only two types of roles: “Scary Black and Funny Black.” He writes about the changing attitudes in casting in an essay that appeared this week on Buzzfeed, “I Benefited From The So-Called ‘Ethnic Casting Craze.'” “It’s a frustrating conundrum to be told repeatedly that your blackness is not the blackness that anyone is interested in seeing, especially when this is your livelihood,” Vaughn wrote.
Shows such as Empire, Black-ish, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, however, have expanded our horizons on race, ethnicity and how we see people living their lives onscreen. Is that a craze, though? Does a rising tide lift all boats? Vaughn believes the answer isn’t that simple, nor is it necessarily cyclical.
Just ask Mr. Eddie Huang, whose memoir “Fresh Off The Boat” became an ABC sitcom that may have the same title and character names, but provides us, the viewers, with what Huang still maintains is a much-too-much watered-down perspective on his family’s American immigrant experience.
So Vaughn, a longtime friend of The Comic’s Comic, provided me with this P.S. to his Buzzfeed essay. He writes:
I stressed out about writing this piece. There’s so MUCH to say that I couldn’t think of WHAT to say. So I tried to keep it simple. One of the big things I didn’t get to address is how the “craze” is playing out. Obviously, it’s good that there’s this push for better representation on TV, but the WAY in which it’s being done is all over the place. There are many people and productions that are doing it well, but a lot of situations are very forced leaving everyone involved feeling dirty. It’s like someone wished for this on a monkey’s paw (racist pun intended). The more I hear about this from fellow actors, the more I hear about forward thinking and backwards execution. I wonder what it will take to find a balance. And I wonder how that will look.
In the meantime, here’s your first look at Grace and Frankie, which Netflix just released today. Roll the clip!